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In light of recent tragedies, many people have been saying "defund the police". I'm a moderate conservative and moderate libertarian and generally think that defunding the police is a bad idea and won't fix any problems that may or may not exist. However, I have had several conversations with a couple of self-proclaimed Marxists/Communists who say that, as a Libertarian, I should sympathize with their cause.

My understanding is that Communism is more or less the total opposite of libertarianism. However, those I spoke to appear to believe that defunding the police is compatible with a libertarian mindset. Is it? And if so, how?

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    I've given the question a bit of an overhaul to make it less of an opinionated push question and more of a genuine question about libertarian policies. That should prevent any further downvotes and close votes. If you disagree with my changes, feel free to roll them back. – F1Krazy Sep 16 at 15:48
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    Surely a libertarian world wouldn't have police at all? It seems to me that all government functions are fundamentally anti-libertarian. – user253751 Sep 16 at 17:11
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    @user253751 Your comment suggest an appalling lack of effort to find out what the term "libertarian" means. "Libertarian" and "anarchist" are very different terms (although there are libertarian anarchists), and it's rather tiresome to see arguments against libertarianism on such grounds as it would eliminate all laws. There are different definitions, but generally libertarianism refers to the idea that the government should intervene only in limited circumstances such as force or fraud. – Acccumulation Sep 16 at 23:38
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    When you say "defund the police" do you mean "reduce their funds and divert those extra funds to a more appropriate program" or "completely remove all funding from the police"? I think most people seriously suggesting this mean the former, but the latter is a common interpretation. Libertarians might support one stance and not the other. – Kat Sep 17 at 0:00
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    @Miech that's an extreme version of libertarianism that is certainly not indicative of the movement as a whole – PC Luddite Sep 17 at 15:07
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To summarize the Defund the police position, it starts with observing that the (US) police is designed and trained to employ violence, and that a majority of situations where currently the police become active do not actually call for violence. It is then suggested to only use the police for the situations where the threat of violence is warranted (e.g., to handle an armed robbery), and to re-purpose some of its funding to other means. This would include a public-health driven drug policy, social workers, a decent infrastructure to cope with mental health issues, etc.

The fundamental principle that the use of violence by the state is something that ought to be limited as far as possible seems to be a core tenet of libertarianism. I would suppose that libertarians would be opposed to funding a public health infrastructure, etc., by taxes, but rather want to use the savings from getting rid of unnecessary police to lower taxes, and leave it to the free market to somehow provide this. Hence, I would expect libertarians to be sympathetic to the Defund the police movement, but not agree with all of their demands.

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    @makelemonade I don't think there is any consensus what "as far as possible" means here, neither amongst supporters of "defund the police" nor amongst libertarians. There certainly is an ongoing discussion to work out the details in the former group, but these details are not relevant for my answer. – Arno Sep 16 at 20:39
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    @Arno Sorry to be argumentative, I mean no ill will, but your conclusion "I would expect libertarians to be sympathetic to the Defund the police" doesn't seem to follow from your previous statements unless you assume that the state's use of violence is excessive, more specifically, that the lack of liberty from its use is greater that the lack of liberty that would result from it not being used. I am suggesting that you have introduced a significant amount of your own opinion in that last step that could benefit from further elaboration. – makelemonade Sep 16 at 20:50
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    @TCooper Do you have statistics for other countries? It seems to me like 2% is a LOT. – JS Lavertu Sep 18 at 2:12
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    @TCooper Coming from a land where police don't carry guns, it certainly looks accurate. The UK effectively has a 2 level police : the vast majority unarmed, but with Armed Response Units called for backup where necessary. Police shooting people is usually in single figures per year.. The only armed police I see is at the airport (GLA) : and then, once the US flights have departed, they replace the firearms with sidesticks. – Brian Drummond Sep 18 at 11:42
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    I find there's two arguments when it comes to defunding police. One is to replace the "jack of all trades" role of police with a mix of independent services, with police only dealing with criminal acts, so specialist paramedics for mental health and suicide, traffic officers to close streets etc. etc. The other is to achieve huge reductions in poverty and inequality (possibly through political revolution) which they argue will reduce crime so much there's no need for a large police force. Of course both aren't mutually exclusive and both have their own practical and ideological roadblocks. – Crazymoomin Sep 18 at 12:09
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Police and Marxism

The idea of Marxism is is not inherently anti-Police. In fact it is hard to fathom how a "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" could be successful in the long-term without some form of police force to suppress counter-revolutionaries, prevent people from monopolizing means of production and ensure that resources are distributed according to everyone's needs.

However, while communism might not be against the idea of a police force per se, it might be against the implementation details of a specific police apparatus. When a police force is used to suppress a communist revolution and protect the capitalist system, then weakening that police force through defunding them (at least until after the communist revolution) would further the goals of a Marxist revolutionary.

Police and Libertarianism

Libertarianism, on the other hand, is a political ideology which emphasizes personal freedom over government authority. In realpolitik, this usually manifests in form of opposition to government spending (aka "small state") and opposition to restrictive laws and regulations.

Defunding the police means that less money is spent on the police which means lower taxes. It also means less police force available to enforce restrictive laws and regulations, which could convince politicians to strike a lot of laws from the books because they can no longer be enforced anyway. And even if the laws stay on the books: A law which doesn't get enforced is de-facto irrelevant.

So at first glance, defunding the police seems like it would further Libertarian goals.

Does that mean that as a Libertarian, you should support the recent efforts to defund the police? Not necessarily.

Just like Marxism, Libertarianism is an ideology which can not exist without at least some form of police protection. The rights to life, liberty and property need protection, which requires a police force. So a Libertarian might come to the conclusion that just reducing the budget of the police could be counter-productive to their cause, as it might result in the police using the limited available budget to enforce the wrong laws and neglect the right laws (those which protect life, liberty and property). A smarter approach might be to first get rid of laws which go against Libertarian philosophy and then consider what's the minimum police budget required to enforce the remaining laws.

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    I believe I've seen a recent court ruling that a law that is not regularly enforced cannot be enforced at all, but I don't remember where I saw it. – Andrew Ray Sep 16 at 17:45
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    Agree. It's the laws that should be minimized, not the monopoly on violence that enforces them. In my opinion, the police force is already subject to laws curbing their power that are not enforced strongly enough. – makelemonade Sep 16 at 20:35
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    @andrew Usually, if a law is little enforced, plaintiffs need to prove why application of the law in a particular case would not be arbitrary punishment. That can be difficult. – Stian Yttervik Sep 17 at 5:31
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    "Defunding the police means that less money is spent on the police which means lower taxes" – That is not what is meant by the "defund the police" movement. The problem they are trying to solve is that in the US, the police is tasked with doing lots of things that have nothing to do with policing and that they are not equipped and trained for. The goal is to shift funding towards e.g. youth counseling, drug counseling, street workers, mental health, and thus reduce the load of the police. However, shifting the funding will not reduce taxes. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 17 at 5:36
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Sure. The law would be enforced by private corporate entities instead.

There's a long tradition of anti-police sentiment in libertarian thought, which is epitomized by the anarcho-capitalist ideal where there is no government at all, and all interactions are between private individuals moderated by the Non-Aggression Principle. No police, just private security agencies that are contractually employed by the people of an area for its protection. No courts, just arbitration bodies that are mutually agreed upon by the individuals having a dispute. No laws, just contractual agreements made between individuals. We can see this sort of thought in libertarian utopian fiction such as the Probability Broach series.

Naturally, one of the major criticisms of this proposed societal model would be that it would be vulnerable to the wealthy and powerful making themselves into warlords and turning it from an anarcho-capitalist society to some form of authoritarian or oligarchical rule. However, that does not deter its ardent supporters, who tend to argue that anyone who tried to seize power this way would be ousted by the collective force of everyone else who wanted things to remain the way they were.

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    Anarchy is not the logical or desired end of libertarianism. In simplest terms, libertarianism looks for an optimization; anarchy looks for a minimization. – fectin Sep 17 at 13:58
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    @fectin that succinctness was a nice dose of endorphins, I like it. – MrBoJangles Sep 17 at 20:24
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    @nick012000 Anarcho-capitalism borrows few ideas from a subset of Libertarians labeled Right-Libertarians. I don't think it's logical to call that group Libertarians any longer, at least no more than it is to label active members of Antifa, or previously the Black Guerrilla Family as typical American Liberals. – TCooper Sep 17 at 21:16
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    I didn't know that, but I a not surprised, as I've seen several online supposed Libertarians argue against all regulations (such as, specifically, earthquake building codes) in favor of court-based remediation after the fact. With the obvious corollary that whoever can't afford it gets little in the way of protection. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Sep 18 at 16:32
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    "However, that does not deter its ardent supporters, who tend to argue that anyone who tried to seize power this way would be ousted by the collective force of everyone else who wanted things to remain the way they were." Interestingly I've heard the same argument from AnComs as well, when challenged on how they would prevent anyone from owning property or otherwise trying to claim more than their fair share in their strictly equal society. – Crazymoomin Sep 19 at 16:24
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A critical distinction must be made for a modern libertarian in the US (I'm assuming this is US as that's where the "Defund the police" movement is currently prevalent). Others have covered the general libertarian ideologies, and this isn't intended to disagree with those assessments, in fact a key point is borrowed below. However, in general, modern libertarians in the U.S. tend to focus on reducing the federal government's impact on the day to day life of it's citizens, followed by reducing the state's impact, and lastly reducing the local government's impact, but with the expectation each level will indeed have a greater impact than the broader government above it. This is because the function of each should be limited far beyond the current state of the government. In that sense, most modern libertarians share many of the ideas of the founding fathers. To be clear this is intended as an addition to the ideals described as libertarian in the previous answers, not in conflict.

To borrow directly from @Phillip "The rights to life, liberty and property need protection, which requires a police force." - and as such a typical libertarian view would be to maintain a police force. The question then is re-framed as "How much policing is enough? How much is too much?".

The key distinction mentioned above is that, generally speaking, a modern libertarian in the US would support defunding the police at a federal and state level(local police funding, not state police), but would not necessarily support defunding the police at a local level. The core idea being the police (as most often referenced) are a local unit of authority meant to protect basic rights and liberties and nothing more.

"What about interstate crime?" - There are already numerous federal agencies designed to handle these situations, which local police could still effectively cooperate with.

"What about inter-county or inter-city crime?" - One wouldn't defund the state police, but remove the states funding to local police.

Additional funding isn't necessary and/or desired from a state and federal level for two main reasons:

  1. The duties of the police are limited and shouldn't require additional federal tax dollars to function appropriately. "But we should get the tax dollars if we can" - as a libertarian, one believes the tax dollars shouldn't be there to begin with, and you can't cut those taxes until they aren't spent on a program.
  2. Receiving funding from another government entity in-debts you to that entity. Once the money is in a budget it becomes expected, once it's needed for the entity to function as it expects, the entity supplying those funds has sway over the actions of the entity receiving the funds via a threat to no longer provide said funds.

The core idea here being that a separation of funding better facilitates a separation of control, which promotes the ideas of strictly necessary government, but no more.

It's worth mentioning that while federal aid only accounts for ~20% of police funding, the programs to provide surplus military equipment and similar tools to the police is a very real form of funding without directly providing $$$, and arguably one of the most detrimental to the police's image to the public, and to actually achieving their goals (only through the overuse of such equipment, there are no doubt times it's beneficial).

Funnily enough, there's one thing Libertarians have in common with Marxist, Communists, Liberals, Conservatives, even Anarchists - they only believe in providing a government that is strictly necessary to achieve an optimal society. The terms we use to describe political groups are simply guidelines of what a person in that group believes to be the optimal form of government. That's why the ideals associated with these terms and the terms themselves change consistently with time.

To attempt a summary, a modern day libertarian would support eliminating federal and state funding for local police, but not necessarily defunding on a local level. Like everyone else, they believe in funding the police to the exact level the police require to perform what they believe are the necessary duties of the officers. The term libertarian more accurately describes what the officers should enforce, not whether they should be there in the first place.

Caveats:
I skipped over state police to a high degree - felt the answer was too long already. But the ideas I mention should make the rest surmisable.

This stems mostly from personal discussion with self-described Libertarians combined with my own reading and political ideals - it's meant to provide a perspective but not be a definitive answer. Shockingly the sample of "personal discussion with self-described Libertarians" from my lifetime is relatively small compared to the population of the United States.



More personal note/not a direct answer: I think what's most important is that you establish how you feel about defunding the police. This opinion can and should change as you research more, understand more, and consider other's viewpoints. That being said, there's no reason not to state what you believe now regardless of the assumed principles of a group you identify with. If your friend says your views aren't that of a Libertarian yet you describe yourself as one, simply tell them you generally agree with Libertarian ideas but don't adhere strictly to any political term to describe your overall personal political beliefs.

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The core ideal of Marxist philosophy is the same as that of Libertarian thought: guaranteeing the liberty of individuals. In fact, I often find it useful to talk about Right-Libertarians and Left-Libertarians, where the latter groups incorporates significant portions of Marxism into their ideology to create something similar to modern progressivism. The main difference between Marxism and (Right-)Libertarianism, however, lies in what they perceive as threats to the liberty of the individual. (Right-)Libertarians take government to be the main threat to liberty, where the government's presumption of authoritative force is used to coerce private individuals to conform to social rules. Marxist theory, by contrast, takes socioeconomic force to be the primary threat to individual liberty, as capitalists and business owners use social and economic threats to coerce other private individuals into servile obedience.

We can see this difference play out in attitudes towards the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Republicans and conservatives opposed to large-scale social controls — the government imposing itself forcefully on private citizens — while simultaneously cutting subsidies and protections: effectively forcing workers back into (potentially infectious) workplaces whether they want to go or not.
  • Democrats and liberals seeking large-scale social controls — to protect the right to life of all citizens — while downplaying the potentially huge impact this could have on individuals who are constrained from running their businesses.

Neither approach is entirely right or entirely wrong — the world is more complicated than that — but the political tensions between the groups are difficult to surmount.

With respect to policing, the question of whether policing is compatible with a Libertarian mindset (or a Marxist mindset, for that matter) is entirely a matter of perspective and framing. Libertarians accept the use of force in two general contexts:

  • The defense of the nation against external threats
  • The defense of private property from theft or destruction

That seems reasonable enough on the face of it, but effectively creates a caste system: those who own private property have a police force which attends to their needs; those who lack private property have no access, and are effectively at the mercy of the first group. Libertarians will often argue that (say) a factory owner cannot be held liable for unsafe working conditions, since workers enter the workflow 'voluntarily' (in scare quotes, because workers need to work somewhere, even if they don't want to); but by contrast any protest a worker might make against unsafe working conditions is a crime against the owner's free use of his property that could reasonably involve the use of force by police.

For a Libertarian, a government protecting the rights of workers is an illicit use of force, but the same government protecting industrial property against worker protests is both necessary and reasonable. For a Marxist, it's the reverse. Both ideologies are happy to have an organized police force when it serves their particular ideology and not otherwise. Both groups would want to defund police departments that work against their ideologies.

'Defund the Police' is typically used these days in a Progressive sense: that reducing the funding of police departments will protect the liberties of common, everyday citizens. Libertarians might go either way on this specific sense of the phrase; they would generally accept the idea that individual rights should not be violated, but would be concerned that reducing funding for this specific kind of policing might increase threats to property (from minor problems like graffiti to major ones like looting or random destruction). The more 'Right' the Libertarian, the more they will lean towards opposition.

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  • the your first paragraph, the distinction between positive and negative liberties is basically what I think you are talking about – Kai Sep 17 at 18:37
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    @Kai: I don't think it breaks down quite that neatly. We always have to keep in mind that one person's 'freedom to...' becomes the focus of another person's 'freedom from...'. An industrialist's freedom to run his business as he sees fit becomes the focus of a worker's freedom from exploitation; a government's efforts to protect citizens' freedom to a healthy life becomes the focus of a business owner's freedom from undue obstruction. 'Freedom to' and 'freedom from' are the heads and tails of a single coin; whichever side you come down on, the other side is still there. – Ted Wrigley Sep 17 at 19:22
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    @TedWrigley You leave out a key point in which Libertarians support policing. The defense of individual liberties (see the name). If a person is held against their will (i.e. kidnapping) Libertarian's would view that as a valid use of police force. The police existing for this and similar situations more or less makes your caste system description a fallacy. Further, government regulations protecting worker's rights has nothing to do with policing, but the courts of law. Protecting property damage from protester's actions is indeed a function of policing. But +1 for your comment above. – TCooper Sep 17 at 23:25
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    @TCooper: re the first point... if we can judge by modern policing, crimes against persons are already segregated by SES, with far more resources and manpower expended when the crime is committed against a person of high status. second point: every regulatory agency has an enforcement division who are effectively 'police', even if they don't wear blue uniforms. Remember, it was the US Postal Service who arrested Steve Bannon. If we make a regulation, we need to make the means for enforcing that regulation. that is police work. – Ted Wrigley Sep 17 at 23:56
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    While I have no evidence to disagree, given you're contradicting the intent of current laws do you have any evidence of your claim that "far more resources and manpower expended when the crime is committed against a person of high status". On the key phrase "intent of current laws", the best laws can only be passed with pure intent, enforcement than becomes a societal dilemma, not one of legislation. Fair on the second point, you caught me making an invalid statement. I'd been focused almost entirely on local police departments in this discussion so far and mis-thought/spoke. – TCooper Sep 18 at 0:04
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As other answers are pointing out: Libertarianism is not a monolithic ideology. Being libertarian doesn't mean that you have to be in favor of reducing the size of government in every single aspect wherever possible, which would be more likely to be called anarchism.

A common term amongst small-government oriented rightwingers is "limited government", which is the idea that the government has a limited set of clearly defined responsibilities, which to fullfill it can be given quite significant power to be applied only within those well defined limits, and that the government (especially the federal government) shouldn't have ANY power outside of those responsibilities, a fitting example for which would probably be the economy.

Examples of those responsibilities on the federal level would be amongst others the maintainance of diplomatic relations, defense of the borders, negotiating treaties, applying tariffs and, of course, enforcement of laws and protection of personal property and liberty.

By this view law enforcement is a CORE responsibility of the government, federal and local, for which to fullfill it can and has to be provided with the necessary ressources.
If a reduction in funds would impair the government' ability to fullfill this responsibility, it would not be in line with this particular view on the role of government.

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    And if the police are currently fulfilling roles outside what are defined as their clear a limited function Libertarians would support defunding to the amount of expenditure on said outlying roles. This is something I wanted to touch on in my answer but left out as brevity isn't my strong suit and I'd already written a novella. – TCooper Sep 18 at 0:08
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Maybe

Left-libertarian or right-libertarian?

First, we have to decide on what we mean by "libertarianism". While in the USA, the word has a connotation of laissez-faire capitalism (perhaps mostly due to the Libertarian Party), in Europe it mostly associated with anti-authoritarian socialism.
From the Wikipedia article on libertarianism:

Libertarianism originated as a form of left-wing politics such as anti-authoritarian and anti-state socialists like anarchists, especially social anarchists, but more generally libertarian communists/Marxists and libertarian socialists. Those libertarians seek to abolish capitalism and private ownership of the means of production, or else to restrict their purview or effects to usufruct property norms, in favor of common or cooperative ownership and management, viewing private property as a barrier to freedom and liberty.

In the mid-20th century, right-libertarian ideologies such as anarcho-capitalism and minarchism co-opted the term libertarian to advocate laissez-faire capitalism and strong private property rights such as in land, infrastructure and natural resources.

A very concise explanation on some (mostly right-)libertarian positions can be found in this answer.

Defunding the police

"Defund the police" is a slogan that can mean different things to different people. While some argue that taking funds from the police and diverting those funds to community resources like education, housing and health care, others pursue the goal ob abolishing the police, i.e. replacing the police with other systems of public safety e.g. community accountability.

Group think

The above points show that without providing more details on both the intended meaning of "libertarianism" and "defunding the police", it is hardly possible to answer the question of how well those positions fit together.
However, the question as stated by OP can be read as "If I identify as libertarian, do I have to support defunding the police?", and I think it's worthwhile to talk about some flaws in this question (this holds true even if OP does not intend their question to be like this, as it is a question that comes up often in various forms).

While it can be pragmatic to adopt a political or ideological label (e.g. to find literature on the topic, find like-minded people, signal a complex bundle of positions and arguments in one word), it may also lead to color politics (from LessWrong Wiki, see the linked blog posts for more detail). Identifying as part of a (political or other) group, while positive in many regards, can lead to group think, a tendency of humans to tend to agree with each other, and hold back objections or dissent even when the group is wrong. Applied to this specific case: Even if people do identify with a political position, it does not follow that they have to agree with every political standpoint voiced by members of said position. In fact, doing so can lead to affective death spirals.

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The right position from the libertarian point of view is to privatize the police. Companies should be sanctioned by the state to maintain public order (by applying violence if necessary).

Companies that are proven to be racially biased would have their contracts annulled. The cheapest way to ensure social justice is to free the market.

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    "The cheapest way to ensure social justice is to free the market." That's an incredibly bold assumption to make. Do you have sources to back it up? – JS Lavertu Sep 17 at 15:16
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    @JSLavertu in Somalia for instance black people are not complaining about the police – abhilash Sep 17 at 15:20
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    Are you claiming that social justice is ensured in Somalia? Just to be sure, is this a case of Poe's law I'm not getting? – JS Lavertu Sep 17 at 15:30
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    @JSLavertu I am saying that anti-Black racism is not a problem in Somalia. – abhilash Sep 18 at 4:42
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    That's a non-sequitur if I ever saw one. First, not having (US-style) anti-black racism has exactly zero bearing on social justice being ensured. I'm not familiar with the racial situation in Somalia, but I don't see why it would be free of racial tensions. Africa isn't a homogenous continent. Second, Somalia has a public police force so the applicability of the free-market here is moot anyways. So we're back to square one: Do you have sources to back up the assertion that private police forces lead to social justice? – JS Lavertu Sep 18 at 14:37
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In theory, you would support the movement, but in this situation no. When it comes to politics you have to look at the big picture and not focus only on the individual entities.

This movement isn't a push in the direction for a libertarian world. This is a push for anarchy (which is not libertarian) and then an opportunity for it to become a totalitarian world. Governments of various major cities are trying to pass laws for a "reform" of police departments after they defund them in their cities. And this reform isn't the intent to privatize the police, reduce taxes, reduce the size of the government, or anything else that would suit the libertarian ideology. They do intend on major changes however. It isn't quite clear but they are. With that in mind, they're also trying to make the reform sound more appealing to society such as replacing the term "police officer" with "social worker".

A libertarian would be in favor for a government whose impact to society to be very minimal or completely non-existent. So as a result of the police force being a part of the government, a libertarian would sympathize with the movement to defund the police according to that idea they support. But what the movement is leading to will bring society further away from what the libertarians want.

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  • @divibisan I went ahead and removed that paragraph. It was off topic as well. – Wolf Zwiener Sep 17 at 22:05
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    The movement is a push of anarchy is completely uncited. BLM members believe that black people are being treated unfairly by the police, the agents of the government; at the very least, libertarians believing the government should get out of the way of the people should include the government not summarily executing people. A government whose impact to society is non-existent is anarchy; I don't even know what that was supposed to mean. – prosfilaes Sep 18 at 0:02
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    No one is trying to replace the term "police officer" with "social worker". The idea is to hire ACTUAL social workers to handle situations that police officers are not qualified to handle. This whole answer reads as a strawman. – JS Lavertu Sep 18 at 2:17

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